by Tovia Singer, March 2105
I always wondered why Christians have a visceral reaction when the core principles of their faith are questioned. They might laugh off annoying atheists, but they glower at former Christians who urge them to choose the Jewish faith. I thought about this conundrum for the past 30 years. I cannot count the number of people who I watched return to God during this time. Hashem redeemed so many from the Church in recent years. As it turns out, I have never been a Christian. As such, I studied this phenomenon as a detached observer. This, I believe, has been to my advantage.
On most occasions, people do not the church in an instant. Rather, there is a transitional period where Christians begin to apprehend that something may be askew in the Church; they begin to grasp that many of its core teachings are doubtful. They let go one finger at a time. There is a gradual process of awareness. Ex-Christians may not take this into account as they engage in what turns out to be a stressful conversation with their former coreligionists.
Frequently, this informal investigation and probing begins by calling into question the long-enduring doctrine of the Trinity. Their departure from the church spirals from there. As time moves on, Christians eventually discover that the authors of the NT may have quoted the Jewish scriptures dishonestly. I mean dishonestly here; I don’t mean incorrectly. They grasp that the authors of the NT may have done their work in a nefarious manner. Christians could live with mistakes in the NT. After all, some scribe may have copied something wrong. Mistakes happen. No one leaves Christianity because there is a mistake in the New Testament. But they cannot abide by lying.
Finally,─and this is big─they are shocked by the vacant, unsatisfying answers they receive from their pastors and church elders about these inconsistencies. They are appalled by the fuming reaction they often encounter from their coreligionists. They don’t know what happened to the “love.”
There is, however, another element in the foreground.
For most Christians, converting to Judaism or becoming a Ben Noach is incomprehensible. Theoretically, anyone can convert to anything; however, becoming a Jew is not a real, practical option for most Christians. It is not a part of their world. In one word, it is alien. Almost all Christians in the West perceive that they have two practical alternatives: 1) believe in God and be a Christian 2) deny the existence of God and identify as an agnostic or atheist. Theoretically, there are countless other choices in a free society. Practically speaking, however, those who grow up in the Christian world consider these two options as their only real, viable choices. Because the belief in God is innate─after all, we are all created in the image of God, and therefore awareness of the Creator is primal─those who leave the Church must discover that they can worship the true God of Israel. If they let go of one understanding of God, there better be a correct one to hold onto. They know there is a God, and they know it isn’t Buddha. It has to be the Father, the God of Israel.
With this in mind, I may be able to explain why people, who are completely rational in other aspects of their lives, cognitively shut down when everything they believe about God’s salvation plan for mankind is challenged. First, they are emotionally unprepared for the conclusion of the ex-Christian: everything you believe in about Jesus is false. They are not there yet; they never went through the process. They are utterly unprepared for the trauma they associate with “rejecting Jesus.” This “rejecting Jesus” part is very important.
Why do Christians always call not being a Christian “rejecting Jesus?” We don’t think of not being a Muslim as “rejecting Mohammad.” We just don’t believe in the tenets of Islam. It’s nothing personal about Mohammad. Why the fuming rejecting language?
This leads me to the next point: the Christian mind is filled with powerful stories of people turning their back on Jesus. Don’t underestimate the importance of the stories found in the Gospels. It is these stirring stories about Jesus, not the firm doctrines of Paul that attract people to Christianity. The moving stories in the Gospels may contradict each other, but they are so compelling. All the characters in the Synoptics and especially John are well-developed. The odious villains are gripping. “You want me to do to Jesus what his enemies did to him?,” they wonder aloud. “I’ve been betrayed. I know what that experience feels like; and I am not going to do it to Jesus. And don’t do it to Jesus either!” Furthermore, “I’ve been talking to Jesus since I was four years old. Was I speaking to nobody?” Christians are appalled at the suggestion that they should “reject Jesus.”
The fear of going to hell is very real to Christians. The confidence that they exude by their certainty that they are going to heaven after they die is supremely important to Christians.
To make matters worse, except for a few famous stories here and there, a handful of prayers from the book of Psalms, and Isaiah 53, almost no Christian has read the Jewish Bible in its entirety. And the few that are somewhat conversant in the Jewish Prophets, read only selected parts of the Hebrew Scriptures. A very tinny number of Christians have ever thoroughly read the entire Jewish Scriptures. And with the exception of a studious few, the tinny number of churchgoers who read the entire Book of Jeremiah only did it once in their lives. Few pastors ever read the Book of Amos or Chronicles; and they rarely can tell you a thing about the book of Habakkuk. Of course, Christians believe these timeless works are holy; they are just not motivated to study them. And, to make matters worse, except for some professor in college, no Christian can read Tanach in its original Hebrew. They are all slaves to the all-important Christian translator who happily leads them by the cross dangling on their necklace. As a result, it never occurred to any Christian that the Jewish Bible almost never mentions heaven or hell. It is mentioned. And if you search carefully, you will find those passages that briefly discuss the afterlife. As it turns out, the discussion of heaven and hell in the Jewish scriptures comes up passingly and indirectly. It is not the point of the teaching. It is never conveyed as a threat or an epic creed. In stark contrast, the authors of the New Testament routinely threaten their readers with eternal damnation and hellfire; and Christians seem to know exactly who is going there. Why the vast disparity between the Jewish Scriptures and the Christian Bible on this point? Christians never ask this question. Never.
As it turns out, we spend a lot more time dead than alive. Why then is there so little ink spent on this topic in Tanach? The answer is simple: of course there is a heaven and hell. Without Olam Haba and Gehenim, the World to Come and Hell, there could be no justice in the world.
Detailed information about heaven and hell, however, has nothing to do with how you are to conduct your life in this world, the only place you have free will. Tanach is committed only to conveying information that you need to live your life properly in this world. In other words, the details about the afterlife are unimportant (and incomprehensible), and God is not going to threaten you with something that is inaccessible. You can’t test it.
In stark contrast, when Hashem speaks to us in the Torah, He brings into view epic moments from the knowable past; events that the entire Jewish people witnessed. In turn, the people of Israel are commanded to be a “witness” to the world, a “light to the nations.” The Almighty therefore declares to us, “I am the God Who brought you out of Egypt; I am the God Who brought you to the Promised Land.” It is for this reason that the Torah calls upon us to “Remember” (Deut. 4-5, 7, 13, 15-16, 24). The Torah commands the Nation of Israel in the first person, “You shall remember, you shall remember!” No nation would have accepted such a detailed command to remember that which was seen and experienced had these events not actually occurred. The emphasis which is placed on remembering demonstrates that the memory of these events carved itself deeply in the consciousness of the nation. Furthermore, the nation of Israel is commanded to remember the events that they were witness to and personally experienced. Only when it becomes evident that the Torah was not written at a later date or dates, but at the time the events themselves occurred, is it conceivable that the entire nation would shoulder the responsibility to remember. This claim is testable─it is verifiable─and therefore it is a claim made only by the children of Israel. No other nation in history had the audacity or the ability to claim that God revealed Himself to their entire nation. On the other hand, no one can test the veracity of the well-worn claim that you are going to go to hell if you don’t believe.
None of what I stated has ever crossed the mind of a Christian. Nothing. Are Christians therefore stupid? Are they unable to process such unambiguous teachings? We know the answer: they were deprived of the tools to discover this on their own. As such, they imitate the scandalous methods of the New Testament writers and impose Jesus onto the Jewish Scriptures, an Oracle they cannot read and know too little about.
In short, Christians need a lot of room to think, lots of space to ponder, lots of patience for growth, and lots of prayer to Hashem.